Top 6 Nonprofit Fundraising Strategies in 2019

nonprofit fundraising strategies

These are the fundamental areas your must focus on in the year ahead. And I mean focus.

  • Prioritize these areas.
  • Create written plans for these areas.
  • Include goals, measurable objectives, and timelines.
  • Assign staff and volunteer responsibility.
  • Monitor, measure and evaluate what’s working/not working.
  • And don’t get distracted from your mission. Persist.

I’ve selected just 6 key areas, because if you do these right you’ll succeed big time. Some of these areas will seem familiar, but the way you employ them may need to be tweaked in order for you to survive and thrive in our digitally revolutionized, highly networked, increasingly competitive marketplace. And that’s why I’m suggesting you need to master each of these fundamental areas:

  1. Master Donor-Centered Content Marketing
  2. Master Compelling Annual Giving Offers
  3. Master Donor Retention
  4. Master Major & Legacy Giving
  5. Master Online Social Fundraising
  6. Master the Shift to an Organization-wide Culture of Philanthropy

1. CONTENT MARKETING: You must let folks know what you do is relevant to them.

Nonprofits constantly tell me “we’re the best kept secret; if people just knew what we did, they’d give.” Okay. What’s wrong with this statement? It’s the “if.”

People can’t know what you do unless you tell them. Don’t expect them to magically figure it out just because you’re doing such great work and you’re such a good cause. There are thousands of good causes out there. It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the donations.

People won’t care unless your message centers on their needs. Which is why it’s essential to figure out who your likely constituencies are, and frame your messaging to resonate with what’s important to them. I remember before I had a baby I never even noticed all the ads for diapers, baby formula and the like. I wasn’t “in the market.” What are your potential donors in the market for?  This is what your content marketing must deliver.

People won’t care unless you meet them where they are.If your most likely supporters are all on Facebook, and you’re not there, you’re going to miss them. If they mostly get their information from snail mail, and you do only one mailing a year, you’re going to miss them. If their preferred method of communication is email, and you don’t have their email address, you’re going to miss them.

ACTION STEP: Figure out the strengths and weaknesses of your current content marketing program and tweak your plan accordingly. If you’re enrolled in Clairification School, you can find a bunch of archived articles HERE– and new ones will be coming. [Not enrolled, or need to re-enroll? Enroll HERE!]

2. ANNUAL GIVING: Your ability to make a compelling offer donors won’t want to refuse is your foundation for sustainable fundraising.

Annual giving means all the money you must raise in order to meet your annual fundraising goal. The majority of nonprofits include money raised from mailed and emailed appeals, events, tribute gifts, car donations, social media and so forth. Then there are grants and sponsorships. To me, these are part of the annual money you must raise. So, for purposes of creating compelling annual fundraising offers, I’m talking about all audiences to whom you’ll present your case for annual support – individuals, foundations and businesses.

The best case for support incorporates your donor’s perspective. What they care about and value. So… consider the fact that your annual giving comprises both unrestricted and restricted gifts – as long as they’re the functional equivalent of annual operating money. Donors should be given the option of designating their giving for particular programs that fall within your annual budget. I’ve never understood the penchant in so many nonprofits to eschew restricted annual gifts. Some do this to the extent fundraisers are penalized for bringing in too few unrestricted gifts.

Break your annual campaign into smaller packages donors can wrap their brains, and hearts, around. Don’t fall into the blatantly non-donor-centered practice of not allowing fundraisers to talk to donors about what the donor really cares about. Why would you steer the donor away from their passions and towards a middle-of-the-road strategy that simply doesn’t excite them? You wouldn’t if you wanted to receive the donor’s most generous gift.

ACTION STEPS: Figure out your core case for support, competitive advantage and priority initiatives.

  1. Take a look at your mission statement, consider why you exist, and also what would happen were you to cease to exist. That’s your core case for support.
  2. Now consider why your nonprofit is better positioned than any other nonprofit to get the job done. That’s your competitive advantage.
  3. Finally, break your core case into components based on your greatest needs for funding this year and what you know about your donors’ areas of interest. These are your priority initiatives.

3. DONOR RETENTION: Unless you renew donors, your support foundation will crumble.

Too often organizations get their priorities backwards. They focus the lion’s share of time and energy on donor acquisition, only to lose those donors as fast as they can acquire them.

Per the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, donor retention has been terrible for years. But nonprofits have largely been ignoring the data. It’s as if the sector is closing their eyes to the reality of climate change, choosing to charge forward looking for more sources of non-renewable energy. This is the year to say “no” to this senseless devastation!

With so much competition for donors today, and so much competition just for attention, it’s never been more important to make authentic connections with your supporters that will cement your relationships with them.

Begin by committing to know your retention rates (for first-time donors, ongoing donors, lapsed donors and overall donors). Only then can you establish specific goals for improvement (by segment) and invest in personal, authentic, gratitude-filled cultivation and stewardship.

ACTION STEP: Put a strategic “Donor Love and Loyalty Plan” in place [Get your free worksheet HERE].

4. MAJOR & LEGACY GIVING: The lion’s share of philanthropic support comes from a small slice of individual donors; you need a plan to get your piece of this philanthropy pie.

Less than 20 percent of charities have even one person specifically designated to pursue and cultivate major donors per a Bloomerang survey. Instead, they stuff their calendars with special events and focus their fundraising primarily on grants. They’re losing money and/or building shaky foundations with these strategies.

One-to-one major gift fundraising is the most traditional, cost-effective, tried-and-true fundraising strategy. Roughly 10 to 20 percent of individuals will provide 80 to 90 percent of an average nonprofit’s annual fundraising. So embracing major-gift fundraising shouldn’t be controversial. Yet many nonprofits still think major-gift fundraising isn’t for them (as per the study mentioned above).

Make this the year you embrace major gift fundraising as a core component of your development plan.

ACTION STEPS: Take a course, read a book, or just do some online research if you don’t know where to begin. It’s not rocket science. Raising $1 million from a handful of major donor-investors (who you’ll be able to steward and keep loyal over time) is simply easier – and more sensible — than trying to raise $1 from a million supporters. Read the 3-part ‘Major Gift Fundraising Shebang’ series on the Bloomerang blog HERE, HERE and HERE (and pick at least one strategy to implement this year).

5. ONLINE SOCIAL FUNDRAISING: The world is increasingly online and networked; go where potential supporters are likely to be found.

Digital communications have changed the way people connect with organizations. You must find a way to truly connect with and meet your natural constituencies where they are.

Folks don’t want to work to find you. If you deliver content through multiple channels, you’re more likely to enable folks to find you serendipitously. Don’t choose these channels randomly, however. Do some research (e.g., a simple survey using Survey Monkey or Google Docs) to discover where your audiences hang out.

Make sure your messaging across channels is consistent and integrated. Your constituents only know one organization. This is the year to eliminate departmental siloes! Merely communicating and fundraising through multiple channels (mail, email, social platforms, TV, phone, website) does not mean you have an integrated program from your consumer’s perspective. Your fundraising is only integrated if you have coordinated images, messages and offers on various platforms – everything reinforcing everything else.

Your constituents want to be leaders, or at least equals, in the engagement process. Folks expect you to know them – rather than the other way around. To raise more money next year, you’ve got to develop an online plan that includes getting to know your current and prospective donors better.

ACTION STEPS: Develop a plan to provide meaningful and rewarding engagement experiences that help folks connect with you and simultaneously help you learn more about your constituents.

  1. Get social. Interact. Ask for feedback. Learn what content your constituencies want. If you don’t know this, you can’t fulfill their wishes.
  2. Monitor and evaluate your results (clicks and opens; comments, shares, most accessed pages; most used media platforms)
  3. Use the information you gather, powered by technology, to segment your online strategies in order to attract and retain donors and volunteers.

6. CULTURE OF PHILANTHROPY: The way to compete today is via donor service, which encompasses gratitude, abundance and love.

Shift your thinking—and the culture of your organization—in the direction of gratitude, rather than greediness, toward your donors. “Culture of philanthropy” is the meme du jour, but I find it helpful to think of it as a “customer service” or a “gratitude culture” because it makes it a bit more actionable. Your organizational culture should fairly burst with gratitude, philanthropy and service.

Culture is a group endeavor. You need to become a philanthropy team! Fundraising must stop being seen as a “necessary evil.” It must be seen as a good thing—for everyone. After all, the meaning of the word ‘philanthropy’ is ‘love of humankind.’ That’s how you should act toward your current and potential supporters.

Philanthropy makes donors feel good, and it makes good things happen. And not just for the development staff. Get everyone — all your stakeholders — to come together around your shared values. The values you enact on a daily basis, and the values your donors cherish.

ACTION STEPS: Bring all staff together on a regular, planned basis to share stories and perspectives. One of my favorite strategies is to create cross-cultural exchanges where development staff periodically attend meetings of program and finance departments, and vice-versa. This is a way to see just how much you’re all on the same page – headed in a direction that furthers your mission. Also check out this VIDEO for some specific tips.

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